- Religious Revitalization among the Kiowa: The Ghost Dance, Peyote, and Christianity by Benjamin R. Kracht
By Benjamin R. Kracht. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2018. vii + 324 pp. Illustration, notes, references, index. $75.00 cloth.
This is a landmark contribution on Native American resistance to colonization, missionization, and domination by Euro-American settlers. Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, Cheyenne, and Arapaho are among the last tribes to be militarily forced to reservations in the 1870s, on lands we now know of as Oklahoma. Kracht focuses on 1883 to the 1930s, when the federal government outlawed Native religions and dances, enabling Indian agents and Bureau of Indian Affairs personnel to punish those who participated. This second book by Kracht clearly documents the resilience of Kiowa peoples throughout this period of cultural ethnocide as they adjusted their beliefs and social relationships [End Page 313] with the Ghost Dance, peyotism, and variations of Christianity. His careful attention to Kiowa language and pronunciations, with excellent selection of first-person quotes, gives voice to Kiowa individuals as we hear in their own words their perspectives, values and beliefs.
Kracht began interviewing Kiowa elders in 1987 for his doctoral dissertation and then continued collecting ethnographic data, maintaining close relations with Kiowa families and churches to this day. A professor of sociology at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Kracht engages his students in research visits to Kiowa Community Christian churches.
His masterful use of interviews and primary documents greatly contributes to original knowledge of life in the American Plains. Kracht spent decades compiling documentary materials from an array of important archival collections, which have not previously been presented in this way, such as the 1935 Santa Fe Fieldschool field notes of Weston Labarre and John Collier in Smithsonian Institution’s National Anthropological Archives. He documents the conversion strategies and proliferation of Methodists, Baptist, Episcopal, Mennonite, Presbyterian, and Quaker missions. Informative endnotes provide sources, and the extensive bibliography allows readers to learn more.
Kracht’s use of religious revitalization theory enables the assembling of supportive evidence in an understandable narrative, leading to his indigenized Christianity and spirituality conclusions. In a way, this reifies the Euro-American settler views of “religion” practiced in “churches,” even though he provides plenty of evidence that peyotism focuses on physical, mental, and spiritual healing. As I documented in a 2012 piece for American Indian Quarterly, the Kiowa and Comanche at the 1906–8 Oklahoma Constitutional Convention and First Legislature argued that peyote was their medicine for healing. Legislators agreed that peyotism was a religion and that Native peoples should not be persecuted for their religions. This shift in peyotist public discourse from “medicine” and health care to a “religion” is in response to the 1906–7 settler-colonizer legal and political domination. Chartered in 1918, the Native American Church continues today as a legally recognized religion. In “A Different Medicine,” Calabrese elaborates on the health benefits of peyotism. Religious revitalization theory has its explanatory limitations. Today, NAC chapters throughout the Plains from Texas to Canada continue the beliefs and practices in this way of life for many generations of family members. This book, recording individual, family, and community church histories, should benefit Kiowa for generations to come.
Florida International University